Leon Trotsky

Twenty Years After 1905

A speech by Leon Trotsky

(December 1925)

Delivered: 26 December 1925 at Second Congress of the Society of Political Prisoners and Deportees.
First published: Originally published in Russian in Pravda, 8 January 1926.
Translated from the Russian: Pete Dickenson.
Copyright: This document is in the Public Domain. If used, please credit the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive and the translator.

This is a speech made by Leon Trotsky on 26 December 1925 and reproduced in the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, on 8 January 1926 under the title, Cherez Dvadtsat Let 1905 (Twenty Years After 1905). The speech was made at the Second Congress of the Society of Political Prisoners and Deportees. Translated by PETE DICKENSON, this is the first translation from the Russian original.

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940):
BORN IN present day Ukraine, Trotsky was first imprisoned for revolutionary activities in 1899. After escaping, he lived abroad until the outbreak of the 1905 revolution. He quickly became the leading figure in the St Petersburg Soviet of workers’ deputies on its foundation in October 1905. After its suppression he was again imprisoned and again escaped. In 1917 he was the co-leader with Vladimir Lenin of the October socialist revolution in Russia. In this article he explains the historical significance of the 1905 revolution, in particular, its lesson that in a largely peasant country, the struggle for land reform and democratic rights could only be successful as part of a movement led by the working class for the socialist transformation of society.

COMRADES, THE history of human society has seen a series of convulsive upsurges of the oppressed masses against oppressors and oppression. Years and decades of apparently hopeless servitude have been, are and will continue to be, burst open by explosions of insurrection. The historical significance of these outbursts is determined by where they happened, the extent of the cultural development of the country, the numbers involved, and the consciousness of the leadership under which the risen masses fought. There are years in human history which seem, not only in the memory of revolutionaries, but of each thinking person from the camp of the oppressed, to be forever cast in bronze, sharply separated from the endless file of years devoid of personality and shape.

1793 has remained in the memory of humanity as one of those years, when under the leadership of the Jacobins, those Bolsheviks of the 18th century, plebeians, sans-culottes, artisans and semi-proletarians, the ragamuffins of the Paris suburbs, established an iron dictatorship and meted out unforgettable punishment to the crowned and privileged rulers of the old society.

1848 lives in human memory, not so much because the backward bourgeoisie attempted in this year to get power, but because from under the cowardly and thievish bourgeoisie the young head of the proletarian lion was already being raised.

1871 has been engraved in the memory of workers as the year when the heroic proletariat of Paris made an attempt, unforgettable in its lessons, to take into its hands the reins of government of a new civilised society.

1905 is another of those years cast in bronze in human history, particularly in ours. Before 1905, our country didn’t witness revolutions, only peasant ‘mutinies’, such as the ‘pazinchina[1] and the ‘pugachevshina[2]. Eighty years before our first revolution – in 1825 – St Petersburg was the arena of the heroic uprising of the Decembrists [3]. Both had essential elements of revolution, but were still not revolution. That class that would have been able to take power was incapable of leading the peasant movements. The insurrection of the Decembrists had insufficient social support. A genuine revolution broke out for the first time on Russian soil only 20 years ago.

Before 1905, revolution was for us a theoretical notion, a romantic recollection about distant struggles, or just a hope. Images of the great French revolution, the scenes of the convention and the Paris districts, struck a chord with us first as a recollection of the ‘pugachevshina’ and, after that, to a greater extent with the ideas of the general strike. Only 1905 gives us a revolution with a familiar native element. New generations of workers go through it. They absorb in their flesh and blood its experience, its initial semi-victories, its blows and its stern lessons. The inner fabric of the people is transformed. Only by going through the lessons of 1905 could our country, twelve years later, write into history the greatest of all years – 1917!

In 1905, it transpired that the resolution of the contradictions of three different historical epochs was sought simultaneously. In order to understand the internal dynamic of the year, it is absolutely necessary to consider the complex interactions of the clash of three consecutive historical systems. First, the conflict growing out of feudal society between the peasantry, still in semi-serfdom, and the serf-advocating landowner class. Second, the clash between the developing bourgeoisie and the shell of the old society still advocating a form of serfdom. And finally, the third contradiction, of a new order, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

If, by 1905, history had not borne the deepest contradiction between the peasant and the landowner, we could not have been participants in the three revolutions which so naturally go together: 1905, February 1917 and October. The antagonism between the peasantry on the one hand, and the landowners and the state on the other, was the inexhaustible reservoir of the people’s revolutionary fervour, thanks only to which our revolution achieved such a gigantic sweep. But alone this antagonism is not enough for revolution: without leadership by the revolutionary town, the peasant insurrection could not raise itself beyond a new ‘pugachevshina’.

If a contradiction had not been politically maturing between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie – ie if there had not yet been a strong industrial proletariat – revolution would have been possible as a ‘great’ revolution, only on the condition that at the head of the peasant masses stood the urban petit-bourgeoisie. We would have had in this case a revolution of the type of the great French revolution. But this possibility is expressed purely formally. Actual economic development left it far behind.

Serfdom and tsarism existed in Russia until the time when, under their cover, powerful capitalist industry arose, but at its heart deep contradictions accumulated between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Thus the 1905 revolution meant the unavoidable formulation of the question about who will lead the destruction of the old semi-serf ways and bonds: the bourgeoisie or the proletariat? This raised a new question: who from the two contending urban classes will take the leadership of the elemental movement of the peasantry – the liberal bourgeoisie or the socialist proletariat? The country was by now pregnant with bourgeois revolution, but this already carried in its womb a revolution of the proletariat. When the defeated 1905 remained without a resolution of the agrarian question, this is why we waited with such certainty for a second revolutionary wave. So, when the conditions had matured, this second revolutionary wave, the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917 [4], produced a social revolution of the proletariat only eight months later. What, in Britain, the oldest capitalist country, was stretched out for three centuries (beginning in 1640 and earlier), here in a backward country was concentrated into a dozen years (1905-17).

The historical contradictions of three systems closed up together in 1905, feeding each other, but paralysing each other. The course and outcome of 1905 are defined by these contradictions. This is not difficult to reveal and to prove.

The year of revolution begins with Bloody Sunday, 9 January, and ends on 19 December, when defeated Moscow proved to be fully in the hands of Min and Dubasov [5]. The basic sweep of events of 1905 coincides, in distinction to other revolutionary years, with the calendar year. From January to December the revolutionary rise of the proletariat unfolds, which then suddenly goes downhill here in Moscow, in the barricade battles of Presnya [6]. The mighty movement of the working class does not allow the bourgeoisie even to pose before itself the task of leading the rising peasantry. But also the workers do not yet succeed in leading the village behind them. The bourgeoisie by now didn’t want to and didn’t dare, and the proletariat is still not able to. So the outcome of 1905 is defined by a revolutionary ‘interregnum’.

True, the village in 1905 already displayed a vast energy in struggle. But the movement of the peasantry, fragmented, scattered, politically barely coming out of the Middle Ages, didn’t coincide in its rhythm with the movement of the proletariat, which mobilised far quicker. The wide sweep of the peasant movement begins only in the autumn of 1905 and lasts until the summer of 1906. The greatest, albeit still insufficient, upsurge of the peasantry is achieved then, when the onslaught of the proletariat was already beaten off.

The army was a reflection of the peasantry in the barracks, but was made up of conscripts recruited before the revolution. So, on the peasant army, that had not yet gone through the school of the peasant agrarian movement, the working class was broken. 1905 did not contain – as we would say today – a political ‘union’ between the town and the village, between the proletariat, the peasantry, and those leaving the peasant army.

But the necessity for a revolutionary union was already keenly felt by the masses, not only the proletarian but also the peasant. Indeed, it is notable that the village of 1905-06 defined the revolution precisely as a strikeÉ We have already forgotten about this. Not a few years have gone by, and each has left a few scars in the memory. But it is necessary to remember this fact, for it is deeply significant. The peasants said: ‘We went on strike for the landlord’s cattle, we went on strike for the landlord’s bread, we went on strike for land’. But in some circumstances they said: ‘We went on strike against the landlord’. Later, it signified that the peasants applied the Red Terror [7] in their own way to dispatch their nearest enemy. With these use of words the peasantry vividly marked its political independence from the leadership of the workers. And if a proper union did not happen immediately, and was not able to happen during the first upsurge of the revolution, this was because the masses do not learn from a book, and the revolution is not accomplished according to a plan. At the base of understanding lies experience, but at the base of experience is action. Above all, the great year of 1905 posed precisely all the questions of our development for the first time, not on paper but in a gigantic revolutionary clash. It showed the interactions of all the social conflicts. It compared and contrasted all classes with each other, weighing them in the balance of revolution. In this struggle, the proletarian vanguard found the way forward and from this experience Bolshevism finally took shape.

After the arrest of the Petersburg Soviet, after the Semyenovsky regiment had crushed proletarian Moscow and Dubasov again was the master of the city; after the executions began on the railways, the agrarian wave, even if numerically growing, could not now overthrow tsarism. This is the reason for the defeat.

But was the defeat total? No. We said on 17 October 1905 that there was still no victory, but there was a semi-victory. But we also said at the end of December 1905 that there was no defeat, only a semi-defeat. Tsarism held out, but this was a broken tsarism. True, in the epoch of reaction, it still threw down insolent challenges to the people. Stolypin [8], the most ‘splendid’ of the representatives of the ‘Third of June’ monarchy [9] cried in the Duma: ‘Don’t be scared!’ However, the time came and they were scared [Applause] – scared to death. [Applause] Third of June tsarism, coming out of the battles of 1905, tried very hard to put on a brave face, but a bullet sat imbedded in its spine, stamped: ‘Krasnaya Presnya 1905’. [Applause]

And this half-victorious, half-defeated revolution of 1905 shook the foundations of the old European and Asian societies. We must remember this on the 20th anniversary also.

From the hand of the Moscow and Petersburg workers, the peoples of Austria achieved universal suffrage. The Hapsburg monarchy [10] trembled before a revolutionary strike.

In Germany, the Social-Democracy, already eaten away with opportunism, was forced officially to include a measure, among others, for a political general strike. If the leaders were hypocritical, then the young generation of German workers took the weapon of the general strike seriously and, in this and in the lessons of 1905, the cadres of the Spartacists [11] were educated.

In France, under the influence of the mighty struggles of 1905, revolutionary syndicalism [12] spontaneously was born, which prepared the ground for today’s Communist Party.

During that period in Britain powerful strikes were witnessed, which shook the conservative trade unions and were the first omen of those gigantic civil struggles that Britain is moving towards. [13]

In Asia, which envelops an important half of humanity and which very recently seemed a continent of perpetual stagnation, 1905 led to three revolutions: in Persia, Turkey and China.

No, 1905 did not go through history without leaving a trace and it would not have done so even if it had not led to 1917. But our first revolution didn’t solve its immediate tasks of smashing the autocracy and annihilating serfdom. The proletariat alone in 1905 understood properly what revolution means, what the struggle for power means. It comprehended before the final act with what frenzy, with what relentlessness, the propertied class defended, and will defend, its supremacy. The vanguard of the working class properly assimilated the words of Marx, to the effect that revolution turns weapons of criticism into criticism by weapons, only after the October Manifesto, when reaction began to pass to the counter-offensive.

I remember in this connection two scenes from the life of the Petersburg Soviet of that time. On 29 October, when the city was full of alarming rumours about a pogrom by the Black Hundreds [14], the Soviet prepared a rebuff. The workers’ deputies, arriving from their factories directly to the session of the Soviet, showed from the rostrum samples, in the main of hand-arms, which they had prepared to use against the Black Hundreds. They displayed stilettos, knuckle-dusters, daggers, wire lashes; brandishing them in the air gaily rather than morosely, with a joke and a humorous quip, as if they thought their readiness alone to deliver a rebuff, in itself, solved the problem. The idea had still not thoroughly penetrated the majority that it was a fight to the death and that only a merciless ‘criticism with weapons’ was able to inflict a decisive blow to the state and to the society of the privileged. The December days taught them this.

On 3 December, the Petersburg Soviet was surrounded by soldiers of all types. The slogan flung by the Executive Committee from the gallery to the floor, where hundreds of deputies were already crowded in, was: ‘Don’t offer resistance, don’t give your weapons to the enemy’. The weapons were hand arms or, more correctly, pocket arms, revolvers – Brownings, MausersÉ So, in the conference hall, already surrounded by detachments of infantry, cavalry and artillery, the workers’ deputies began to spoil their weapons. They skilfully used the Mauser on the Browning and the Browning on the Mauser in order to make them unusable. And this was not accompanied now with a joke and a quip as on 29 October. In this sound and clank, in this gnashing of demolishing metal, could be heard the gnashing of the teeth of the proletariat who, for the first time before the end, felt that different, more powerful forces, more powerful weapons, were needed in order to smash the age-old bastions of slavery. In the days after that, from 9-19 December, Min and Dubasov gave the proletariat an additional terrible lesson when the last heroic workers of Moscow were drowned in blood.

Next began the years of ebb, the cutting down of the ranks, of persecutions, deportations, hard labour, emigration. On the one side, apostasy, desertion, mockery and, on the other, black and voiceless years of counter-revolution. Over the slogans, methods and aspirations of 1905, how much mockery there was then, official and unofficial, oppositional and pseudo-revolutionary? It would be possible to fill all the tiers of this hall with the literature of the years of reaction which tried to destroy the very memory of the great year for good, to trample the banner of revolution in the dirt of the Third of June reaction. The fake revolutionaries, after the liberals, toadyingly scoffed at the memory of 1905, at its ‘foolish day-dreaming’, at its unfulfilled promises. No! Today, on the 20th anniversary, turning back to look at 1905 and looking at the future, we say to the people of our country and to the working people of the world: 1905 didn’t deceive anyone – everything that it promised was fulfilled in 1917. [Applause]

In 1905, for the first time, the idea of Soviet power was projected into the consciousness of the masses. During all the years of the Third of June regime, followers of Suvorin [15] of all colours scoffed at the crushed ‘government of slaves’. But he who laughs last laughs loudest. The slogan of ‘Soviet Power’, proclaimed in 1905, not only has become a powerful reality in Russia today, but it also has opened up a new epoch in the history of humanity.

1905 would clarify the slogan of ‘Land and Freedom’. It was called romantic and fantastical, and indeed there was in it a little romance, but this slogan, throwing off its romantic skin, turned into the iron reality of the confiscation of the landlord’s property and the abolition of the nobility, who had oppressed Russia for centuries.

The eight-hour working day, as also Soviet power, has its origin in the revolution of 1905 when the workers attempted to introduce it by force. How many sages, how many vulgar thinkers, both at that time and after, scoffed at this revolutionary endeavour as madness, which they said alienated the bourgeoisie from the struggle for power and freedom? These sages and philistines thought, as do others to this day, that the working class needs political freedom in the abstract. No, 1905 showed that the working class needs the material opportunity to make use of freedom. Real freedom began for workers from that hour and from that minute when they freed their muscles and their brains from the bondage of the factory, when they reduced their work and increased their leisure time, in order to participate in the social life of the country. Therefore for them, the struggle for the eight-hour day was the most important component part of their struggle for freedom. 1905 promised to do it and tried to do it but, in 1917, the eight-hour working day was introduced in reality, and permanently – or for as long as technology doesn’t allow us to replace it by the seven-, the six- or the five-hour working day. [Applause]

But a republic? How many have pontificated as regards the utopianism of this slogan? How many have written articles, how many have written speeches proving that, in the consciousness of the peasant masses, the monarchy had deep roots and that the idea of a Russian republic is doctrinaire? This was said and written, not only before 9 January, but also after the bloody encounter of the tsar with the people, after the Petersburg proletariat sent the threatening imprecation to the Romanov [16] band: ‘Death to the bloody tsar and his snake-like breed!’ In the years of reaction these words seemed an empty threat. The Third of June monarchy cheered up, hard labour and the gallows marked its path. Tsarism exulted and it seemed that the slogan of a republic had indeed been a senseless dream. But the hour struck and, on 16 June 1918, the proletariat of Beloborodov in the Urals carried out the severe verdict of the working class. [Applause]

The fraternisation of the Petersburg Soviet and the Peasant Union began in the days of October 1905. The liberals and Mensheviks [17] didn’t understand the meaning of what was going on in front of their eyes. The events in these days laid the base of the political union of the working class and the peasantry – this foundation of Soviet power.

On 2 December, the Petersburg Soviet, together with the Peasant Union and other revolutionary organisations, issued a manifesto on finance. It predicted an inevitable collapse of tsarist finances and proposed the repudiation of the payment of the tsarist debts. What of it? This manifesto, appearing on the eve of the destruction of the Petersburg Soviet, turned out to be more powerful than all the ministers and financiers. The collapse of the tsarist rouble we observed in the imperialist war, its agony rolled on through the whole of the Kerensky [18] regime, and it was still burning out during the Soviet period, until the worker-peasant chernovonets [19] appeared to replace it. Thus, the basic predictions of the 2 December manifesto were fulfilled to the letter. But not only the prediction, but also the obligation.

Stock exchange dealers, diplomats and bourgeois journalists blame us, our regime, our government, because we allegedly do not fulfil our obligations. Not true! We fulfil them one hundred percent. On 2 December 1905, under the signatures of the working class and the peasantry, we declared that the people were not responsible for the tsarist debts. On 10 February 1918, a proclamation of the Soviet government announced, without equivocation, the annulling of all the tsarist debts. This is how the revolution fulfils its obligations. [Applause]

In the summer of 1905, the mutinous battleship, Potemkin, sailed through the waves of the Black Sea under a red pennant. In many towns, military detachments under the red banner joined up with workers. In our eyes this was an augury that a revolutionary class can become a victorious force, that the proletariat can create a state, leaning for support on its own army.

The battleship Potemkin surrendered. The soldiers fighting under the red banner were killed or sent to hard labour. It seemed that the idea of the workers having their own armed force was a utopian dream. But the wheel of history turned powerfully and all that remained of the tsarist fleet came under the red pennant. From the hearts of the workers an unprecedented army rose up, which stands under the banner of the world revolution. [Applause] What in 1905 was a hint, a premonition, a hope, in 1917 became a triumphant reality. This is why we have a complete right to say: yes, of course, there were illusions, but the illusions took the form of timing, partly of methods. However, the revolutionary onslaught of the proletariat that made up the core of 1905, rallying around it all the oppressed masses, did not mislead. 1917 fulfilled what 1905 promised.

But history did not come to a stop in 1917. In its turn, 1917 unfurled a gigantic programme that waits only to be carried out. Will it be possible? Will we be able to?

Having grown wise with the experience of these two decades, we can and must look more vigilantly and urgently at the future than back at 1905. Great tasks face us. History is with us. But the nub of the question is to wait for the historically ripe period; to hold out, not to retreat, not to surrender what has been won with iron and blood, to strengthen our achievements, to develop and enrich them. Some of the large number of obstacles we face reveal themselves only now, and in a place where many do not expect them. Meanwhile, the enemy bares his teeth, maliciously rejoicing in the prospect of future shocks. We need a yardstick, verified in past battles, to size up the road ahead, an accurate criterion to soberly evaluate the future. So today, at this anniversary meeting, we do not indulge in reminiscences for platonic reasons, but to better arm ourselves for tomorrow.

Let us ask ourselves once more: is there a danger that the bourgeois world will overcome us? Capitalism is immeasurably richer, and that means stronger than us. Yes, richer and stronger. But it is divided. One part of it, America, does not let another part, Europe, live. The colonies undermine the economic foundations of the mother countries. China, the main landmass of Asia, is shaken with the convulsions of the liberation struggle. Europe does not have a lack of evil intent, but it has insufficient strength. It is in decline, between a rock and a hard place, with no way out, as tsarism earlier had no way out.

Old Europe is the seat of all capitalist culture. From different sides of this old trunk two offshoots grew: America and Euro-Asiatic Russia, now the Soviet Union. Europe today is between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Europe not only discovered America, it raised her in its yeast. In a series of religious movements and revolutions, Europe threw out across the ocean the most active and enterprising of its children, or more correctly its step-children. The emigrant farmers, cowboys, lumberjacks, carpenters and metalworkers aroused the slumbering forces of the new world. A business-like spirit, work discipline, a puritan passion for accumulation, Europe sowed these seeds on American soil and they produced luxuriant shoots. Breaking out from the narrow confines and barriers of Europe to the freedom of America’s expanses, technical thought developed really stupendously.

Until the war, the USA lagged far behind its former mother country, Britain, and behind its mother country in a broader sense, Europe. Following the war, Europe tried to survive by robbery and usurpation, using military methods. But after the occupation of the Ruhr, and after the most serious retreat of the German proletariat in its history in the autumn of 1923, Europe made an attempt to move to a peacetime footing. Looking at itself, it was horrified to see an economic pigmy compared to the colossus across the ocean. Europe begat America: without Europe there would not have been New York skyscrapers, the Niagara hydro-power station, Ford automobiles or tractors. But entangled in the web of its own conservatism, Europe turned out to be impotent in front of America. The dollar presses on it with monstrous force. Step by step, America moves the European countries to a subordinate position, driving them into a blind corner, creating intolerable conditions of existence. There is no way out for Europe.

But on the other side, the Soviet Union, that lives, fights and is growing for a ninth year, is a source of revolutionary danger for Europe.

There are two aspects to Europe as far as we are concerned. Official Europe exploited us by means of loans. She nurtured tsarism, she armed it, wringing out profits from the people and dragging down our economy and culture. Under the harsh, cast-iron lid of the autocracy – the forces of action and reaction are equal, according to the [scientific] law – a head of steam was building up, the will of the vanguard was being tempered. And here, unofficial Europe came to its aid, ideologically arming it. With the first endeavour of the aristocratic intelligentsia, the Decembrists, associating themselves with the historians of the great French revolution, were to give tsarism a rebuff and to force open a window to Europe.

The intellectuals from the nobility were replaced by those from the middle class, armed with the theory of populism. [20] And this new broader wave carried up on its crest the People’s Will [21], heroic figures, who will be forever be in our roll of honour. [Applause] The first generation of Marxists, at first intellectuals, then workers, took the place of the People’s Will. They were drawn from small circles, both before 1905 and after the defeat of December 1905, until the unequalled victory of October 1917. In order to accomplish its work, in order to give the revolution the sweep it acquired, very special, first-rate ideological weapons were imperative for the revolutionary vanguard. Where did it get these? From Europe.

The proletarian vanguard needed all the experience of centuries of accumulated generalised thought to carry out its social mission. The system of Marxism united three mighty European sources: English political economy, the experience of class struggle in France, and German classical philosophy. This system, the most precious part being the method, was given to us by Europe. But it is necessary to know how to take what is given. Marxism is not a passive, contemplative doctrine. It is volitional, it interprets the world in order to change it. If Europe gave us Marxism, then we knew how to accept it, thanks to the temper and strength of will of the revolutionary vanguard.

The Decembrists began the arduous work to create a cohort of iron-hard militants, out of a loose, unravelling mass. The single-combat of the terrorist intellectuals with tsarism did not provide victory, but it was a necessary stage in the development of revolutionary ideas and methods of struggle. Without Radishchev [22] there would not have been Pestel. [23] Without Pestel, no Zhelyabov. [24] Without Zhelyabov we would not have had Alexander Ul’yanov. [25] And without Alexander there would not have been Vladimir [Lenin]. This says it all. Our stern and glorious revolutionary history – a history of exile, emigration, hard labour and the gallows – was a necessary preparatory school for a true understanding of Marxism as a doctrine which, using the latest findings of generalised thought, arms the will of the most revolutionary class. In Leninism live the Decembrists, the teachers of the 1860s [26], the Populists and the People’s Will. In Leninism, our heroic national revolutionary tradition completely and finally fuses with the working class, fully armed with the most developed scientific thought, which originated alone in Europe.

Burning up in the fires of war, Europe gave a new stimulus to the technological power of America, as it gave a new spur to revolutionary ideas in Russia. America did not squander her gifts, she developed technique to the greatest height. We also received a gift from Europe - revolutionary thought – that we did not squander or expend. On the contrary, we enriched it with the experience of 1905 and 1917 and prepare now, augmented with the mighty lessons of these years, to share it with the European proletariat. [Applause]

Bourgeois Europe stands today in an impossible position: between America, which crushes Europe with the dollar (the dollar has a terrifying strength due to its preponderance), and the Soviet Union, which aims for a socialist form of government, combined with American technology.

Comrades, regardless of the fact that we face obstacles both now and in the future, they are nothing compared to those Europe is moving towards. We Marxists predicted them long before 1905. Enemies scoffed, sceptics questioned, but they came. Our enemies crushed us, they thought for good, but after 3 June 1907 we predicted 1917. And it arrived and it arrived for good. [Applause] Yes, today we are still encircled by capitalist enemies. There are philistines and blockheads who scoff at the ‘unrealised hopes’ of 1917 for world revolution. He who laughs last, laughs loudest. Many of us in this room, the majority I hope, will gather again to greet the triumph of an October beyond the borders of our country. [Applause]

1917 will not be the last year cast in bronze in the annals of history. No, in Europe and the world, a great new proletarian revolution is approaching, not yet revealed by the statistics, but it is inescapable and inevitable. The hour will strike. We wait for it with confidence, with disciplined effort. It will come. Gathering here today, ex-political prisoners and exiles, veterans of two revolutions, together with the entire Communist vanguard of the proletariat, we say confidently to the approaching great new year: come forward, we meet you fully armed.” [Applause, singing of the Internationale]


1. Peasant war in Russia, 1670-71, led by S.T. Razin.

2. Peasant war in Russia, 1773-75, led by E.I. Pugachev.

3. Insurrection against tsarist autocracy by Russian nobles in December 1825, from which month it took its name.

4. The February 1917 revolution overthrew the monarchy, attempted agrarian reform and tried to establish a democratic parliamentary system, tasks that had long before been achieved in bourgeois, capitalist countries. Hence its label here as a bourgeois-democratic revolution, in contrast to the Bolshevik-led revolution of October 1917, which was socialist in character.

5. G.A. Min, colonel of the Semyenovsky regiment, sent to Moscow on 15 December 1905 to crush the uprising. F.V. Dubasov (1845-1912), tsarist admiral who, as governor-general of Moscow, led the suppression of the insurrection.

6. Presnya district of Moscow (later called Krasnaya Presnya), the centre of the uprising.

7. The Red Terror was a repression launched by the Bolsheviks in 1918 to combat a wave of assassinations of Soviet leaders by the Social Revolutionary party, which included an attempt on Lenin’s life.

8. Petr A. Stolypin (1862-1911), prime minister of Russia after the 1905 defeat. He organised the repression in the years of reaction which followed.

9. The repressive regime led by Stolypin that came to power after the dissolution of the second Duma on 3 June 1907.

10. The Hapsburgs were the imperial rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the end of the First World War.

11. The Spartacist League organised a heroic but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government and establish a socialist society in Germany in January 1919.

12. Revolutionary syndicalism believed in overthrowing the capitalist system by means of a general strike.

13. Trotsky here presciently was anticipating the general strike of May 1926.

14. Fascist-type gangs which organised anti-Semitic pogroms, often led by the police and other tsarist agents.

15. A.S. Suvorin (1834-1912), publisher and journalist, after initial liberalism, a supporter of tsarism.

16. Romanov was the family name of the tsars.

17. The Mensheviks were the reformist wing of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party. They were in opposition to the revolutionary trend (the Bolsheviks), led by Lenin, in a split that emerged in 1903. Subsequently, the Mensheviks bitterly opposed the October 1917 revolution.

18. Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970), leader of the provisional government overthrown by the October 1917 revolution.

19. New unit of currency introduced by the Bolshevik revolution.

20. Populism was a movement in Russia from 1861-95 which combined a radical, bourgeois-democratic, anti-feudal programme with utopian socialism. Its followers were known as Narodniks.

21. The People’s Will was founded in 1879 after a split in the populist Land and Freedom group. It adopted a conspiratorial approach, using terrorist methods. It was responsible for the assassination of tsar Alexander II in 1881.

22. Aleksander Nicolaevich Radishev (1749-1802), Russian materialist philosopher of the enlightenment period. He was imprisoned for his revolutionary ideas.

23. Pavel Ivanovich Pestel (1793-1826), a leader of the Decembrists.

24. Andrei Ivanovich Zhelyabov (1850-81), the leading figure in the People’s Will.

25. Alexander Ilich Ul’yanov (1866-87), member of the People’s Will. He was executed for his part in the attempt to assassinate tsar Alexander III, and was the elder brother of Vladimir Ilich Ul’yanov (Lenin).

26] Refers to the group around the populist Land and Freedom organisation, influenced by Alexander Herzen (1812-70) and Nikolai Chernyshevskii (1828-89). It was formed in 1861.

1905 Outline of Events
(dates according to the old Russian calendar)

9 January: Bloody Sunday. Mass demonstration of peaceful, unarmed workers march to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, the tsar’s residence, to present a petition to improve their conditions. They are shot down. Over 200 are killed.

July: Mutiny of the sailors on the battleship Potemkin.

August: The government offers to create a legislative assembly, the Duma, with limited suffrage.

7-17 October: A general strike paralyses the Russian empire.

13 October: First meeting of the St Petersburg Soviet (council) of workers’ deputies in the Tauride Palace. It is formed initially by representatives from 50 striking print works. Ultimately, it is comprised of over 400 delegates representing nearly the whole working class of the city.

15 October: Leon Trotsky returns to St Petersburg from exile and rapidly becomes the leading figure in the Soviet.

18 October: The October Manifesto is announced by the tsar, under pressure from the mass movement, promising limited democratic rights.

3 December: Dissolution of the St Petersburg Soviet by tsarist soldiers. All the delegates, including Trotsky, are arrested.

9-17 December: Insurrection in Moscow centred on the Presnya district (later called Krasnaya Presnya). It was defeated by the armed intervention of the Semyenovsky regiment which was sent in on the 15th.

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007